Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Belles of Williamsburg by Mary Maillard

book cover
The Belles of Williamsburg:
The Courtship Correspondence of Eliza Fisk Harwood and Tristrim Lowther Skinner, 1839-1849
edited by Mary Maillard

ISBN-13: 9780991789313
ebook: 460 pages
Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association
Released: January 1, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through

Book Description from Goodreads:
After the Twelfth Night Party in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1841 – thirteen years old and brimming with hopeful exuberance – Eliza Fisk Harwood wrote her close friend, “Trim” Skinner of Edenton, North Carolina, that she had danced so long she wore holes into her new satin shoes and hose. Their subsequent correspondence charts Eliza’s education, coming of age, courtships and engagement, and Tristrim’s practical education in the management of the Skinner family’s farms. At the age of twenty-one – ten years after Trim had made her a secret promise and sealed it with a ring – Eliza married him and left her childhood home to become a Carolina plantation mistress.

Eliza Harwood's detailed letters are a popular masterpiece of social commentary– perhaps the only such record of Williamsburg college life during the 1840s. More importantly, the Harwood-Skinner correspondence sheds new light on the complex social, familial, and romantic elements of antebellum courtship in a decade not well represented among available primary sources. Eloquent and considered, the letters are a pleasure to read and would appeal to students, historians, and non-academics interested in the South and its history.

My Review:
The Belles of Williamsburg is a collection of courtship letters between Eliza Fisk Harwood and Tristrim Lowther Skinner dating from 1839-1849. An introduction gives the reader an overall idea of what is going on during the correspondence and an epilogue gives an overview their lives after they were married. The initial letters were mainly about what college students are boarding at the Williamsburg house, who is marrying, and who is dying. As Eliza gets older and especially as the courtship becomes serious, the letters talk more about Eliza's and Tristrim's own lives.

I appreciate that the editor included excerpts from the novel that Eliza thought mimicked her own courtship. Having these excerpts helped me to better understand what Eliza and Tristrim were referring to and going through in their own courtship. There were also about 100 pages of end notes and such to give further information about the people and events mentioned in the letters. The editor's notes certainly help to tie the "story" together.

I think these letters will be of most interest to people who are interested in courtship letters of the time, those interested in Williamsburg at this time period, or those who are somehow related to these families. If you're interested in a sense of what everyday life was like, it's there but generally only in passing. They were catching up on family news or asking "please write more frequently," not (usually) describing what they did that day. Overall, I'd recommend this book, but it's probably going to be of interest to only a limited audience.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

As a member of Amazon Vine, I'm able to review books through them, but--as I understand the terms--I'm only allowed to post my review on Amazon. Because I liked this book, I'm posting a description of the book here with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

book cover
Rejection Proof
by Jia Jiang

ISBN-13: 9780804141383
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Harmony
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him.

Thus was born his "100 days of rejection" experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis--from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).

Jia learned that even the most preposterous wish may be granted if you ask in the right way, and shares the secret of successful asking, how to pick targets, and how to tell when an initial no can be converted into something positive. But more important, he learned techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence--a plan that can't be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.

My Review:
My review on Amazon.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

book cover
Death at the Priory
by James Ruddick

ISBN-13: 9780871138323
Hardcover: 209 pages
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Released: 2001; January 1, 2002

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description from Goodreads:
In 1875, the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married the handsome and successful young attorney Charles Bravo and made her home at the Priory, a Gothic mansion in London, hoping to escape the scandals of her past. But Bravo proved to be a brutal and conniving man, and the marriage was far from happy. Then one night he suddenly collapsed, and three days later died an agonizing death. His doctors immediately determined that he had been poisoned.

The graphic and sensational details of the case captured the public imagination of Victorian England. The investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects grew to include Florence; her secret lover, the eminent doctor James Gully; her longtime companion and housekeeper, Mrs. Cox; and the recently dismissed stableman, George Griffiths. But ultimately no murderer could be determined, and despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and other writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has never been definitively solved.

Now James Ruddick retells this gripping story of love, greed, brutality, and betrayal among the elite, offering an intimate portrait of Victorian culture and of one woman's struggle to live in this repressive society -- and unmasking the true murderer for the first time. Simultaneously a murder mystery, a colorful social history, and a modern-day detective tale, Death at the Priory is a thrilling read and a window into a fascinating time.

My Review:
Death at the Priory is a true crime book about an unsolved murder that occurred in 1876 in England. The book described Florence's life leading up to her husband's murder and gave social and historical details to help the reader understand what her life was like. He then described the murder using the information that was publicly available at the time of the murder. He then eliminated suspects using his research into crime records that weren't publicly available and into what happened to the various suspects afterwards.

The author came up with a scenario for the murder that might be correct, but a lot depended on people not acting very logically (which leaves room for doubt). So the author didn't convince me that the murder had finally been solved. I didn't like how the author acted like certain conclusions were obvious and then pull out information we hadn't heard yet so we could catch up. I felt like he simply pulled out what supported his ideas. I was left wondering if there were potential clues that he also uncovered that he never told us.

I found the historical and social context interesting. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend the book to readers who like true crime and history.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pigments of Your Imagination by Cathy Taylor

book cover
Pigments of Your Imagination: Creating with Alcohol Inks
by Cathy Taylor

ISBN-13: 9780764347535
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Released: March 28, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description from Goodreads:
Mercurial, versatile, inexpensive, and wildly colorful, alcohol inks are one of the newest mediums to hit the art community. Pigments of Your Imagination is your essential guide for working with alcohol inks, from choosing which inks to use for each project to learning how to maximize your artistic potential with a wide variety of fascinating techniques.

Using an assortment of materials and tools, learn how to work on a variety of surfaces, including paper, glass, metal, fabric, and plastic. Find inspiration for your own masterpieces in the step-by-step demos and guest artist gallery. From the beginning craftsperson to the professional artist, Pigments of Your Imagination offers a broad insight into the expansive world of alcohol inks.

My Review:
Pigments of Your Imagination is an art technique book on how to use alcohol inks. This book clearly explained how to make your own unique art by getting to know how the ink can be used and manipulated. The step-by-step pictures were clear, and the captions contained enough information that even a beginner can understand what to do. The author favors a "loose, playful" art style, but one of the guest artists did explain how you can do more detailed, realistic flowers.

The book covered what alcohol inks are and the supplies you'll need. In terms of specialized equipment, you could get away with just the inks though she did suggest some special paper. She also used common art supplies like a round brush, masking fluid, and acrylic gloss medium. She provided a series of step-by-step projects that have you try out different ways to apply the inks and different tools (like a drinking straw) that you can use to get certain effects. She continued with projects using wax paper, stencils, glues and pastes, laminate, masking fluid, and more to create raised textures or reserve white areas.

She then had projects on how to apply the techniques we've learned to create specific types of art: landscapes, seascapes, dreamscapes, and cityscapes; and then detailed to abstract flowers and some animals. She had projects on how to create batik, madras, marbled, and swirl effects for paper and fabric, as well as a "tie-dye" pattern and stamping patterns for fabric. It ended with projects involving acrylic skins, aluminum, ceramic tiles, mixed media collage, marbled papers, and simple monoprinting. She also included a gallery showing a variety of ink art.

This book make me feel confident that I could do the projects and that it'll be fun, too. Most art books don't leave me feeling that way, so I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the basic techniques for using alcohol inks.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Link to the book on the publisher's website which includes a Look Inside feature.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

As a member of Amazon Vine, I'm able to review books through them, but--as I understand the terms--I'm only allowed to post my review on Amazon. Because I liked this book, I'm posting a description of the book here with a direct link to my review on Amazon. This book is a novel, but it reads like a non-fiction so I'm also posting it here.

book cover
Listen, Slowly
by Thanhha Lai

ISBN-13: 9780062229182
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: February 17, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their daughter to learn more about her culture.

But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

My Review:
My review on Amazon.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Last Rescue by Howard Wasdin

book cover
The Last Rescue
by Howard Wasdin
with Joel Kilpatrick

ISBN-13: 9781595555946
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: October 28, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through BookLook.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
As a Navy SEAL, Howard Wasdin survived the firestorm made famous in "Black Hawk Down" only to return to a world without support, without a mission, and soon without his family. Wounded in Mogadishu and facing a torturous journey of rehabilitation and recovery, he came home to find his marriage falling apart and his world upended. Then he met Debbie, an accountant emerging from her own trial by fire.

"The Last Rescue" is an unforgettable tale of brokenness and healing, going deep into the firing line of modern warfare, through the agony of broken marriages, and onto a path of redemption and love. With a clear-eyed view of the inevitability of heartache and the power of God's faithfulness, Howard and Debbie remind us that no matter what our circumstances, we should never, ever, give up hope.

My Review:
The Last Rescue is a memoir. Howard is the main viewpoint of the story, but Debbie gives her viewpoint of events at several points. Howard talked about his childhood and his injury in war to explain where he was coming from, but most of the book was about what happened when he returned: his recovery from his injury, his marriages, his attempts to make a living off his military skills, and finally choosing a new career--and life--path.

He was very open about admitting the ways that he was at fault in various relationship breakdowns and why he was acting that way. It was interesting to see his attitude changing from desperately wanting a loving family situation and needing to hold on to his "rock star" warrior status to slowly learning how to be a part of creating that loving, supportive family situation he craved and moving on to a new career path.

Though "rediscovering their faith in God" is in the book description, they didn't say much about their religious journey. The references were mainly about him feeling that God worked events in his life to bring healing and fulfillment and why he felt God had kept him alive. This book might interest returning war veterans who are having trouble readjusting as Howard has "been there, done that."

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brain Fitness by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

book cover
Optimizing Brain Fitness
by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

DVD & Paperback book
12 lectures
29 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through Great Courses for $20.00.

Book Description, Modified from Great Courses Website:
Your brain is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. You can improve your brain in a range of areas, including memory; attention and focus; learning and creativity; and sensory acuity and fine motor skills.

Dr. Restak includes exercises that will enhance and improve your brain's essential functions, like:

-In one minute, name as many animals as you can without repeating them. You'll have to use your working memory to mentally eliminate animals you've already named. A desirable score is between 17 and 20 animals.

-Close your eyes and envision the room around you, and then open them and check for accuracy. Repeat this memory-recall exercise and pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the number of magazines on a table.

My Review:
Optimizing Brain Fitness is a set of lectures about your brain which included exercises and games to improve your brain function. The DVD set came with a course book that covered some of the highlights of each lecture. The professor was very focused on what he was saying, so he often didn't follow the director's cues about the camera changing. This was distracting. The visual components added little to nothing to the lecture, so it might actually be easier to follow these lectures as audio only.

In the first few lectures, I often thought, "okay, that statement obviously meant something significant to you, but it means nothing to me." It was technical, but the problem was more like he was leaving out connecting information which he assumed we knew. The course book didn't fill in the blanks. This got better as the lectures went on, though, and the last three lectures were pretty good in terms of being understandable and applicable.

I had hoped to learn about the research on brain plasticity and practical, everyday things to help improve my brain. He didn't usually explain the specific research studies behind what he was teaching. He did have some practical exercises, like knitting or cooking, but many of the exercises were basically things you find in brain-puzzler books. I'd rather spend my time cooking than doing puzzles that have no direct real-world application, so I was disappointed there weren't more "real life" workout examples. There was some good material in these lectures, but it could have been so much better.

If you've seen this DVD, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.